The Green Leaf

Humpback whales in our midst

March 14th, 2016
Photo of humpback whale and mom. Courtesy J. Moore – HIHWNMS/ NOAA Permit # 15240

Photo of humpback whale and mom. Courtesy J. Moore – HIHWNMS/ NOAA Permit # 15240

We admire them from a distance and have studied them for more than 30 years, yet they remain a mystery.

Despite a late arrival, the humpback whales are back in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Sanctuary, here to mate and nurse their calves in the warmer and shallower waters of the islands. While scientists have gained a lot of knowledge about whale biology and behavior, they have never witnessed the humpback whales in the act of mating.

Drone footage recently captured a mother humpback whale "tail-sailing," or basically doing a headstand in the ocean with its tail out of the water, catching the wind like a sail. The "tail-sailing" is common among southern right whales, but has rarely been documented among humpback whales.

The footage was captured during a two-week study by the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries' Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technology, which also used drones to conduct health assessments of the whales from a closer distance.

Volunteers continue to count sightings of the humpback whales from the shores of Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island on the last day of the month in January, February and March. As featured in today's Green Leaf column, some of these volunteers, like June Kawamata, are dedicated citizen scientists. Kawamata, a retired oordinator from Kailua High School's cafeteria, served as an Ocean Count site leader at Lanai Lookout for 20 years. She still heads out when she can, out of a love for the whales.

One more count is scheduled for March 26. If interested, visit sanctuaryoceancount.org.

Boaters are also reminded to be vigilant during humpback whale season, which generally runs from November through May in Hawaii. Mariners are asked to report any collisions with whales, or injured or entangled whales to NOAA's 24-hour hotline at 1-888-256-9840.

Humpback whale breaching. 2011. Courtesy Ed Lyman – HIHWNMS/ NOAA Permit # 14682

Humpback whale breaching. 2011. Courtesy Ed Lyman – HIHWNMS/ NOAA Permit # 14682

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